What happened to Peter on the beach is revealed to us because it is a lesson that we all need to learn, to accept and to apply to ourselves. Peter had denied Jesus on three occasions, just as Jesus told him he would. Peter had been nearly bragging that he would never abandon Jesus no matter what, that he was so loyal to him that he would die with him. Let's give him some credit, when they came to arrest Jesus, Peter was prepared to defend him to his death. Jesus stopped him and even scolded him, telling Peter it had to be this way.
Peter's denial of Jesus came at an incredibly vulnerable moment. Peter was lost and confused. He no longer understood his role, his place and he did not understand any of the events that were unfolding. If you have ever had the experience of your life falling apart in a moment, changed forever, no going back, then maybe you can slightly identify with Peter. It was in this lost state that he was challenged and he denied being with Jesus. The first denial we can understand but by the third denial we know that Peter was doing this to save his own neck. He lost faith and trust in Jesus and was scrambling to save himself.
Imagine his mixed reaction when Jesus appeared to him in the garden. Imagine how his heart must have raced with Mary's words. Imagine how his head must have swam with the confirmation from the disciples returning from Emmaus. Imagine how he must have stopped breathing as Jesus appeared to them in that locked room. The others were so excited but Peter could not manage to do anything, the guilt weighed so heavy on his heart. Before his death Jesus had tagged Peter for leadership but all that week he could only remain behind a locked door. He had nothing to say and he took no action. He did not feel like a leader and he did not act like a leader. When Jesus appeared again and spoke to Thomas directly it was just too much and we find Peter running away to hide behind his fishing. So full of guilt he just wanted to feel something familiar, to experience something normal. There was nothing more real to him at that moment than the boat beneath his feet. Then it happened again.
John said it was Jesus on the shore. Peter could not stand it any longer. His heart was exploding with a need to fall at the Master's feet, to seek forgiveness, to express his sorrow, to declare his love and loyalty. He jumped overboard to get to the Master but the boat arrived at the same time as he did. Something still held Peter back. Perhaps he was afraid to deal with what he had done. It wasn't until after they ate that Jesus took the initiative. Peter did not go to Jesus to seek forgiveness and to express his sorrow, it was Jesus who went to him and opened the door for Peter to express his love:
“Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)
Jesus showed Peter he was forgiven for each of the three denials, giving Peter the opportunity to express his love in place of them. Then he told him, "Follow me!" It is significant. It is important. It should be a releasing realisation that we are not chained to our past. Peter went on to be the leader Jesus called him to be. It was through Peter that the Spirit spoke to the multitude and so many came to know Jesus on that the day of Pentecost. It was through Peter that the Spirit spoke to the Sanhedrin and we witness many priests and Pharisees joining the list of believers. We see Jesus performing miracles through Peter so that it was thought that just having Peter's shadow fall on you would bring healing. It was through Peter's obedience and loyalty to Jesus that we witness the doors to the Gentiles being opened up as Peter defended what was happening in Antioch.
Now, just imagine if Peter had decided not to believe Jesus' forgiveness and refused to forgive himself. Imagine if he decided to not step into his calling because of what he had done in his past. Imagine if Paul had done that.
Paul was the great persecutor of the Church. It was because of him that many Christians died and others had to flee from Jerusalem. Imagine what it must have been like for Paul to preach in Galatia where many of these Christians had fled. Imagine what must have been said to him when he came to these regions. Imagine how the enemy must have come at him with accusations, trying to sidetrack or even derail Paul. This is why Paul often referred to himself as the chief sinner, because he had persecuted Jesus via the Church. However, Paul had also received forgiveness for his past and refused to allow what he had done to dictate who he would be. Instead of allowing his past to define him he allowed Jesus to define him and look what it resulted in.
Far too many Christians are hiding in the shadows of their past. They have given the enemy authority over them through guilt and fear of things for which they have been forgiven. Every single Christian needs to step out from those shadows and stop denying the calling in their lives. I am sure the world accused Paul. The Church even accused Paul. Many people will accuse us in the flesh because they have failed to understand that forgiveness is at the foundation of the Kingdom of God. But this cannot and must not stop us. We must know who we are in Jesus, a new creation and we must understand the heart of the Father. Our Father is the type who jumps off the front porch and comes running to us even when we are at a distance from him. He comes looking for us. Forgiveness is a swift and easy thing for him. He is glad for it.
There will always be people to remind us what we were but we must accept the truth that it is who we WERE. It is no longer who we are now. Even if it was only yesterday, it is not who we are today. We must learn this lesson now because there is a great work waiting for us. Each of us have been called as a Peter and a Paul. We are a seed and from us there is a great harvest that is produced. It is selfish of us to wallow in guilt instead of serving in the forgiveness we have received. We have been given knowledge about what happened on that beach for a reason, that we would see and understand: WE ARE FORGIVEN! So live and serve in the truth of the Father's love. Be all you can be in Christ Jesus our Lord and allow a harvest to be produced through you.